32 SES 01 A, Towards a Theory of Organizational Education: Selected Reference Points
In today’s interconnected world, various research disciplines, such as social science, pedagogy, health and organizational science (see, e.g., Gerdes & Segal, 2011; Feshbach & Feshbach, 2009; Mercer & Reynolds, 2002), see empathy as an essential success factor for constructive and respectful interactions. Empathy, commonly associated with the metaphor of “standing in someone else’s shoes”, can be defined as a multidimensional construct, combining cognitive, affective, and behavioral dimensions (Clark et al., 2019). While the cognitive dimension of empathy comprises the act of knowing and understanding someone else’s inner state, the affective dimension stands for the ability to feel the same emotions as other persons (Batson, 2009, Cuff et al., 2014). Recently, scholars have begun to consider the behavioral dimension, i.e., behaviors in acting empathically (e.g., Clark et al., 2019; Van der Graaff et al., 2016). In light of this multifaceted meaning, fostering empathy in the organizational context is important as empathic interactions acknowledge diversity and encourage openness to different perceptions making empathy one of the essential capability for leaders and employees in organizations (e.g., Clark et al., 2019; König et al., 2020).
The ability to empathize can be learned and trained throughout life (Strayer & Eisenberg, 1987), and a number of training programs already exist in different professional contexts and settings. In particular, previous reviews on existing training programs mainly focus on the target group of medical professionals, such as nurses or physicians, in order to enhance their empathetic capability while interacting with patients (e.g., Kelm et al., 2014). Other reviews (e.g., Davis & Begovic, 2014) pay special attention to the instructional aspects of training programs, but they do not analyze the specific target group and neglect evaluations on the trained dimension of empathy. However, despite the growing interest in empathy learning in various settings, the knowledge about the very heterogeneous forms and approaches of empathy development in the organizational context is rather limited and requires consolidation and synthesis of work in this research field.
The aim of this study is to provide a comprehensive, systematic review of the existing literature on empathy development in the organizational context. In our paper, we would like to outline ways in which individuals in different occupational settings (e.g., managers and other professionals), can learn and develop empathy in a guided way throughout their professional careers. In line with our aim, our research question is as follows: What type of interventions and training programs exist to enhance empathy in the organizational context? Therefore, the purpose of this study is to examine the current state of international multidisciplinary research in empathy development, identify possible connections between numerous approaches, and provide ways of systematization in the field of empathy promotion in the organizational context.
For our research study, we performed a systematic literature review following the methodological PRISMA guidelines (Moher et al., 2009). We selected PubMed, PsycINFO (APA), Business Source Complete (provided by EBSCO), Web of Science, and ERIC as databases, due to their importance in the fields of psychology, business, and education. During this systematic process, we adopted the following exclusion criteria: literature was excluded if it addressed training programs tailored to (1) physically or mentally ill persons, (2) children, including adolescents, and (3) offenders, since we assume that these target groups have divergent needs compared to people operating in the organizational context. In addition to the systematic literature search, the snowball technique was used to collect additional references in identified papers (Fink, 2019). Titles, abstracts, and full texts were analyzed during the systematic search process. We considered general information about the studies to describe the literature, such as author(s), publication year, and title. Furthermore, we gathered information about the training programs, including their design, the addressed occupational context and the organizational level, the dimension of empathy which was supposed to be enhanced, and the reported impact of the training programs on empathy development.
Based on our findings, we will provide an overview of empathy training programs' status quo in the organizational context, with particular focus on the following aspects. (1) We will pay special attention to the content and design aspects used in training programs. (2) Valuing the multidimensionality of the construct of empathy, we will clearly outline which component(s) of empathy are addressed in the given training programs, as far as reported in the analyzed studies. In doing so, it becomes clear to what extent empathy is recognized as a multidimensional construct. (3) Referring to the context-dependency of empathy and the multilevel character of empathy development in organizations, we will allocate identified training programs specific to different occupational settings and different organizational levels, thereby deduce neglected areas in the research concerning empathy training programs. (4) As empathy measures often do not match the dimensions of the underlying construct definition, we will examine this source of error in the identified training programs in order to advise more suitable measurements if necessary. Taking these four aspects together, we will present a holistic picture of the status quo of empathy training programs in the organizational context and deduce implications for further research and practice.
Batson, C. D. (2009). These Things Called Empathy: Eight Related but Distinct Phenomena. In J. Decety & W. J. Ickes (Eds.), The Social Neuroscience of Empathy (Social Neuroscience Series, pp. 3-15). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. Clark, M. A., Robertson, M. M., & Young, S. (2019). “I feel your pain”: A critical review of organizational research on empathy. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 40(2), 166-192. Cuff, B. M. P., Brown, S. J.; Taylor, L., & Howat D. J. (2014). Empathy: A Review of the Concept. Emotion Review, 8(2), 144-153. Davis, M. H., & Begovic, E. (2014). Empathy-related interventions. In A. C. Parks & S. M. Schueller (Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell handbook of positive psychological interventions (pp. 111–134). Oxford: Wiley Blackwell. Feshbach, N. D., & Feshbach S. (2009). Empathy and Education. In: J. Decety & W. J. Ickes (Eds.) The Social Neuroscience of Empathy (Social Neuroscience Series, pp. 85-97). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. Fink, A. (2019). Conducting research literature reviews: From the internet to paper. London: Sage. Gerdes, K. E., & Segal, E. (2011). Importance of Empathy for Social Work Practice: Integrating New Science. Social Work 56(2), 141-148. Kelm, Z., Womer, J., Walter, J. K., & Feudtner C. (2014). Interventions to cultivate physician empathy: a systematic review. BMC Medical Education 14, 219. König, A., Graf-Vlachy, L., Bundy, J., & Little, L. M. (2020). A blessing and a curse: How CEOs’ trait empathy affects their management of organizational crises. Academy of Management Review, 45(1), 130-153. Mercer, S., & Reynolds, T. (2002). Empathy and quality of care. British Journal of General Practice. 52(Suppl), 9-12. Moher, D., Liberati, A., Tetzlaff, J., Altman, D. G., & The PRISMA Group (2009). Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: the PRISMA statement. PLoS Med, 6(7), e1000097. Strayer, J., & Eisenberg, N. (1987). Empathy Viewed in Context. In N. Eisenberg & J. Strayer (Eds.), Empathy and its Development (Cambridge Studies in Social and Emotional Development, pp. 389–398). Van der Graaff, J., Meeus, W., de Wied, M., van Boxtel, A., van Lier, P. A. C., Koot, H. M., & Branje, S. (2016). Motor, affective and cognitive empathy in adolescence: Interrelations between facial electromyography and self‐reported trait and state measures. Cognition and Emotion, 30, 745-761.
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